Why Property Investors Are Less Bullish Now

Continuing our analysis of our households surveys to September 2017, today we look at the property investor segments (which account for one third of mortgage loans).  We already highlighted that investors have become less bullish about future home price growth:

For example, in 2015, 77% of portfolio investors were intending to transact, today this is down to 57%, and the trend in down. Solo investors are down from a high of 49% to 31%, and again is trending lower.

Now we look at what is causing this.

The underlying reason for Investors to transact has been changing, with the tax breaks (40%), and better returns than deposit account savings (35%) together now accounting for two-thirds of the motivation.  Appreciating property values has been squeezed (10%), as has access to low rate finance (5%).

Turning to the barriers which investors face, the difficulty in getting finance is on the rise (29%), along with concerns about rate rises (12%). Other factors, such as RBA warnings (3%), budget changes (1%) only registered a little but concerns about increased regulation rose (7%) . Around one third though already hold investment property (33%) and so will not be buying more in the next year. So, net demand is weakening.

The importance, when it comes to obtaining finance, of the price in the purchase decisions for investors is clear. Flexibility and loyalty to a specific lender count for naught.

Those investing via a SMSF exhibit somewhat similar drivers in terms of motivation to transact, with tax efficiency a strong motivator (37%), as well as appreciating property values (22%), and leverage ( 17%).

We see some changes in where SMSF Trustees get their advice, with more relying on internet forums or sites (23%), their own knowledge (20%) and a mortgage broker (16%).  Advice from real estate agents is on the rise, (14%), and is now similar to accountants (13%).

 The mix of property held in SMSF has not changed much, with 70% holding less that 40% of their investments in property.

Next time we look at first time buyers.

Wall Street landlords are chasing the American dream

From The Conversation.

Owning a family home in the suburbs has been a cornerstone of the American dream for many generations. But in 2008, when the United States’ housing bubble burst and a spate of mortgage foreclosures triggered the global financial crisis, that dream was vanquished, and such houses would instead become the sites of shattered lives.

In the aftermath of the crisis, hundreds of thousands of suburban homes were repossessed and sold at auction. With the market in shambles, prices were low. Tightened credit made it hard for individuals to buy – even for those whose credit was not destroyed by the crisis. Investors saw an opportunity, and began buying up houses.

Though house prices have recovered in many regions of the US, many of the people living in these homes are now renting – and their landlords are some of the biggest investment firms on Wall Street. Of course, small scale, mostly local investors have long owned and rented out individual houses. But it simply wasn’t feasible to manage large numbers of individual homes at a distance. As technology changed, it became much more practical for large corporations to manage individual homes spread across different regions.

With access to credit and funds unavailable to the average home buyer, large investors have been able to enter the landlord market in ways that have never been seen before. Blackstone – the world’s largest alternative investment firm – pioneered new rent-backed financial instruments in 2013, whereby rent checks are bundled up and sold as securities, similar to the way that mortgage payments are turned into financial products bought by investors.

Now, Blackstone’s rental company Invitation Homes looks set to merge with Starwood Waypoint Homes; a move that would create the nation’s largest landlord, with roughly 82,000 homes across the country. Another Wall Street backed firm, American Homes 4 Rent, owns a further 49,000 homes across 22 states.

Renting the American dream

Since 2010, the United States has seen a massive rise in the number of families renting the kind of single-family houses that have long been the desire of would-be homeowners chasing the American dream. While estimates vary, the inventory of single family homes being rented has grown by anywhere from three to seven million (35% to 67%) compared with pre-crisis levels. Single-family houses are now the most common form of rental property in the United States.

Overwhelmingly, the people living in these houses are families. Our ongoing research with Jake Wegmann of the University of Texas and Deirdre Pfeiffer of Arizona State University shows that almost half of Single Family Rented (SFR) households (49%) have at least one child under 18; a far greater percentage than rental properties with multiple units (roughly 25%) and owner-occupied homes (31%).

According to our own analysis of the American Community Survey, in 2015 an estimated 14.5m children in the United States lived in a rented single-family home. Demographically, single-family renters are more likely than owners to be people of colour, and to face moderate or severe housing cost burdens. The upshot of all this is that the 40m or so people living in SFR homes now form the basis of a new asset class of rental-backed securities.

Destination unknown

Scaling up portfolios consisting of thousands or tens of thousands of rental homes has made it possible for Wall Street firms to roll out financial instruments suited to “a rentership society”. Securitisation allows big investors to borrow against the value of the properties, to buy more properties and pay off old debt, and acts as a loan that tenants pay back with their rent checks.

Wall Street is no stranger to the housing business in America. But their involvement as landlords of single-family homes is new, and so are the financial instruments they have developed. The impact of Wall Street’s new role is unclear. While rehabilitating houses and helping to stabilise home values in the hardest-hit markets, they may also be crowding out first-time buyers, creating a lopsided market that shuts out would-be owner-occupiers.

Some Wall Street landlords have been singled out for poor repairs, problems with billing and collections and lacklustre customer service. There is also growing concern about the fact that renters of single-family homes have little protection, even in cities with some form of rent control. A report from the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta found that large corporate owners of houses are more likely than smaller landlords to evict tenants; some filed eviction notices on up to a third of their renters in just one year.

Here to stay

Wall Street landlords are also making new political allies, hinting they intend to stick around. The largest single-family rental companies have banded together to form a trade group, the National Rental Home Council, which promotes large-scale, single-family rental housing and advocates for public policies friendly to their interests. And it seems to be working.

In an unprecedented move, just after President Trump’s inauguration, the government-backed mortgage agency, Fannie Mae, agreed to underwrite Blackstone’s initial public offering of Invitation Homes stock, to the tune of a billion dollars. Blackstone’s CEO is Steve Schwarzman, one of the president’s most loyal backers. And Thomas Barrack – the recently departed leader of Colony Starwood Homes, which is preparing to merge with Invitation Homes – is a longtime friend of the mogul-turned-president.

Meanwhile, another government-backed agency, Freddie Mac, has announced that it too was supporting investment in single-family rentals, but with a focus on financing for mid-size investors and with an explicit goal of maintaining rental affordability. Non-partisan organisations like the Urban Institute have also suggested that government-backed financing opportunities could help single-family rental serve as a new affordable housing strategy.

All of these developments suggest that the downward trend in home ownership after the financial crisis could be here to stay. And while there is nothing wrong with renting – just as there is nothing inherently good about owning – the changes we are seeing in the single-family rental market bear ongoing scrutiny, to ensure that Wall Street’s demand for profit does not once again wreak havoc on Main Street.

Authors: Desiree Fields, Lecturer in Urban Geography, University of Sheffield; Alex Schafran, Lecturer in Urban Geography, University of Leeds; Zac Taylor, PhD Candidate in Geography, University of Leeds

Heritage Bank Halts Investment Lending

Heritage Bank has said it has temporarily stopped accepting new applications for investment home loans, to ensure they comply with regulatory limitations on growth.

Heritage has experienced a sharp increase in the proportion of investment lending in our new approvals recently.

That’s an outcome both of our attractive pricing structure and the actions other lenders in the investor market have taken to slow their growth.

We need to manage our investment lending portfolio carefully, to ensure we stay within the caps APRA has placed on growth in investor and interest only lending.

As a result, we’ve taken the decision to temporarily stop accepting applications for new investor lending, effective from Friday (1 September).

We will monitor our approvals and loan portfolio in coming weeks and review that decision as needed.

They also announced a tiered pricing structure, based on LVR bands for some products, reflecting the risks involved.

Heritage Bank is Australia’s largest customer-owned bank. In 1981 Toowoomba Permanent Building Society (est. 1875) and the Darling Downs Building Society (est. 1897) merged and became Heritage Building Society. In December 2011, Heritage Building Society officially changed its name to Heritage Bank to remain relevant and competitive.

Why investor-driven urban density is inevitably linked to disadvantage

From The Conversation.

The densification of Australian cities has been heralded as a boon for housing choice and diversity. The up-beat promotion of “the swing to urban living” by one of Australia’s leading developer lobby groups epitomises the rhetoric around this seismic shift in housing.

Glossy advertisements for luxury living in our city centres and suburbs adorn the property pages of our newspapers.

Brochures boast of breathtaking city views from uppers storeys and gush about amenity, lifestyle and “liveability” – often touting the benefits of adjacent public infrastructure investments (but please don’t mention “value sharing”).

Depictions of attractive younger people, occasionally clutching a smiling infant, are prominent as the image of all things new, urban and desirable.

Long gone are the days when the manifestations of property marketeers’ imaginations were restricted to images of low-density master-planned estates on the urban fringe. We hardly ever hear about these nowadays.

There’s truth in the claims that housing choice and diversity have indeed widened in the last few decades as a result. The statistics clearly show a much greater spread of dwelling options in our cities.

The rise and rise of the apartment block

Apartments now account for 28% of housing in Sydney and 15% in Melbourne. As the maps below show, most recent growth in apartment stock is clearly in and around the inner city. Yet even the more distant suburbs have had an increase in higher-density residential development.

Changes in the number of flats and apartments, 2011 to 2016, in Sydney (above) and Melbourne (below). Data: ABS Census 2011, 2016, Author provided
Data: ABS Census 2011, 2016, Author provided

For many, inner-city apartment living is clearly a preferred choice for the stage in their life when an upcoming, “vibrant” neighbourhood is attractive. High-density urban renewal has been a boon for hipsters and students alike.

But the issue of choice needs to be unpacked carefully. For many others, the “swing to urban living” is more of a necessity.

True, the surge in apartment building has put many properties onto the market to rent or buy that are clearly cheaper than houses in the same suburb. From that point of view, they have added to the affordability of these neighbourhoods.

However, affordable to whom is an open question. At A$850,000 and upwards for a standard two-bedder in Waterloo, South Sydney, and $500,000 or more in Melbourne’s Docklands for a similar property, these are not exactly a cheap option for anyone on a low income.

But other than in the prestige areas where higher-income downsizers and pied-à-terre owners can be enticed to buy in some comfort, much of what is being built is straightforward “investor grade product” – flats built to attract the burgeoning investment market.

It can be argued that the investor has always been a major target of apartment developers, even in the 1960s and 1970s when strata units became common, particularly in Sydney. But it is even more so today.

Despite the clamour to control overseas investors perceived to be flooding the market, the bulk of investors are home grown. We don’t need to rehearse the debates on the factors that have fuelled this splurge, but clearly the development industry has been savvy to the possibilities of this market.

In the last decade, backed by state planning authorities and politicians desperate to claim they have “solved” housing affordability by letting apartment building rip, developers have got involved on an unprecedented scale. The figures bear this out: in 2016, for the first time, Australia built more apartments than houses. The majority end up for rent.

Problematic products with too few protections

In the rush, we, the housing consumer, have been offered a motley range of new housing with a series of escalating problems. Leaving aside amateur management by owners’ bodies in charge of multi-million-dollar assets, problems of short-term holiday lettings and neighbour disputes, there are more serious concerns over build quality, defective materials and fire compliance.

The apartment market has been left wide open for poor-quality outcomes by building industry deregulation. This includes:

  • moves toward complying development approval for high-rise;
  • self-certification of building components;
  • complex design and non-traditional building methods;
  • relaxation of defect rectification requirements;
  • long chains of sub-contractors;
  • poor oversight by local planners and authorities; and
  • cheap or non-compliant fittings and finishes.

Plus there’s the rush to get buildings up and sold off. Not to mention fly-by-night “phoenix” developers who vanish as soon as the last flat is occupied, never to be found when the defects bills come in.

The lack of consumer protection in this market is astounding. The average toaster comes with more consumer protection – at least you can get your money back if the product fails.

‘Vertical slums’ in the making

These chickens will surely come home to roost in the lower end of the market, which will never attract the wealthy empty-nesters or cashed-up young professionals with the resources to ensure quality outcomes.

In Melbourne, space and design standards, including windowless bedrooms, have come under critical scrutiny, as has site cramming. Tall apartment blocks stand cheek-by-jowl in overdeveloped inner-city precincts.

At least New South Wales has State Environmental Planning Policy 65, which regulates space and amenity standards, and the BASIX environmental standard to prevent the more egregious practices.

But people are most likely to confront the problems of density in the many thousands of new units adorning precincts around suburban rail stations and town centres. These have been built under the uncertain logic of “transport-orientated development”, often replacing light industrial or secondary commercial development.

These developments attract a mixed community of lower-income renters. Many are recently arrived immigrants and marginal home buyers – often first-timers. Many have young children, as these units are the only option for young families to buy or rent in otherwise unaffordable markets. Overall, though, renters predominate.

What will be the trajectory of these blocks, once the gloss wears off and those who can move on do so? You only have to look at the previous generation of suburban walk-up blocks in these areas to find the answer.

Far from bastions of gentrification, the large multi-unit buildings in less prestigious locations will drift inexorably into the lower reaches of the private rental market.

Town centres like Liverpool, Fairfield, Auburn, Bankstown and Blacktown in Sydney point the way. The cracks in the density juggernaut are already showing in many of the more recently built blocks in these areas – literally, in many cases.

This inexorable logic of the market will create suburban concentrations of lower-income households on a scale hitherto experienced only in the legacy inner-city high-rise public housing estates.

With the latter being systematically cleared away, the formation of vertical slums of the future owned by the massed ranks of unaccountable, profit-driven investor landlords is a racing certainty. The consequences are all too easy to imagine.

The call for greater regulation of apartment, planning, design and construction is being heard in some quarters. The 2015 NSW Independent Review of the Building Professionals Act highlights these concerns.

But don’t hold your breath for rapid reform. No-one wants to kill the goose that’s laying so many golden eggs for the development industry and government alike – especially in inflated stamp-duty receipts.

The market has a habit of self-regulating on supply. Evidence of a marked downturn in apartment building is a clear sign of that. But don’t expect the market to self-regulate on quality, at least with the current highly fragmented, confusing (not least to builders and bureaucrats), under-resourced and largely unpoliced regulatory system.

The legacy of this entirely avoidable crisis is completely predictable, but will be for future generations to pick up

Author: Bill Randolph, Director, City Futures – Faculty Leadership, City Futures Research Centre, Urban Analytics and City Data, Infrastructure in the Built Environment, UNSW

The Rental Conundrum

The CPI data released by the ABS yesterday showed that over inflation remains low.

But within the series there is a striking contrast. The Housing Group category of data rose 0.3 per cent for the quarter, and 2.4 per cent for the year to June 2017 but rent rose only 0.2 per cent for the quarter, and 0.6 per cent for the year.

It is worth reflecting on this in the light of the out of cycle rate hikes which property investors are experiencing, as the banks improve their margins using the alibi of regulatory tightening. In fact recent hikes being applied not to new mortgages but to the entire book have meant a significant “bonus” to the banks.

First, lets be clear rental rates have more to do with income that property prices, and the fact that rental rates have hardly grown reflects the stagnation in wages. Vacancy rates are also rising.

Second, the fact is a greater proportion of property investors are now underwater on a net rental cash flow basis. But the situation varies by state.  This chart shows both gross yield (rental income) and net yield, (costs of mortgage repayments and other rental costs) on a cash flow basis and before tax.  VIC and NSW have on average negative net returns.

The net rental calculation is before any tax offsets. The distribution by state is even more interesting.

Investors seem ok with negative cash-flow returns because in many cases they just offset the losses against tax, and comfort themselves with the thought that the capital value of the property is still rising (in most eastern states at least).

However, the divergent movement of mortgage rates and net rental returns are a leading indicator of trouble ahead, especially if capital growth reverses.

Given flat incomes, we think rentals will not grow much at all for some time, and remember more new properties are coming on stream, so vacancy rates are likely to continue to rise!

Australian economy is ‘stuffed’ without investors

From The Real Estate Conversation.

Far from being the ‘bad guys’, property investors actually keep the Australian economy afloat, according to Propertyology managing director Simon Pressley.

Propertyology research found that federal, state and local governments collect about $50 billion in property taxes every year – with property investors paying substantially higher rates than owner occupiers.

Pressley says he’s sick and tired of investors being blamed for every perceived issue in the property market when they are significant financial contributors to the economy.

“Let me be frank – without property investors, the Australian economy is stuffed,” he says.

“Homeowners and investors fork out a staggering $50 billion in taxes every year and for what? The privilege of investing for their future and providing homes for millions of Aussies?

“Take away that tax revenue and our economy won’t survive – plain and simple.”

Given more than 50 per cent of state and local government revenue comes from property taxes such as stamp duty, land tax and council rates, Pressley says he struggles to understand why investment is currently being politically discouraged.

“Australia needs to encourage investment, not penalise those who are trying to responsibly plan their future to avoid becoming a liability on Australia’s financial system by way of reliance on a taxpayer-funded pension,” he says.

“What’s the alternative to investing? For those who are critical of investors does that mean that they are advocates of spending everything that they earn? Is that a good thing? Is that what they advocate to teach their children to do also?”

According to Propertyology research, every year property investors pay $8 billion in stamp duty, $7 billion in land tax, $130 million in council taxes, as well as tax on $7.5 billion of net rental gains.

Property investors also declared gross profits of $50 billion on property sales in 2015, according to estimates, which would have attracted billions more in taxation revenue.

Pressley says without the multi-billions of tax dollars that property investors pay annually, vital services and infrastructure could not be funded.

“The $8 billion paid by investors on stamp duty in 2014/15 covers the entire cost of the Badgery’s Creek airport,” he says.

“The $7 billion that governments collected from land tax would fund Brisbane’s long-awaited Cross River Rail project, while also having change leftover to build three to four new hospitals in regional cities.”

Pressley says that contrary to common misconceptions of property investors outbidding first homebuyers, causing Sydney’s housing boom, or buying property solely for negative gearing purposes, investors were ordinary Aussies just trying to get ahead.

“There are two million property investors in Australia and 90 per cent of them only own one or two properties – that’s a fact,” he says.

“Property investors are not the bad guys. They’re everyday Australians with regular jobs and incomes. They elect to invest because they make a conscious decision to be responsible and proactive with the money they earn to give themselves a chance of being financially independent in retirement.”

“Someone please tell me, what is fundamentally wrong with that?”

Three looming changes all investors must prepare for

From MPA.

What type of property will be in strong demand in the future?

Now that’s a good question for property investors to ponder, because the way we live and where and how we live is evolving.

It wasn’t all that long ago that buying a house and land in the suburbs was considered an indisputable truism of property investing. Investing in a house on a large block was considered ‘safe as houses’ (pardon the pun), and still today you’ll hear investors talk about a property asset’s value being “all in the land”.

But what was accurate only a decade or two ago is now becoming less so, particularly when it comes to real estate. For instance, while it is true that a house will depreciate in value while the land appreciates, that doesn’t mean apartments and units make terrible investments.

That’s because apartments also have an articulable land value underneath them.

And in certain markets an apartment investment makes much more investment sense than a freestanding home. This is because demographics – or the composition of Australian households – is evolving.

More of us are now trading a backyard for a courtyard or balcony due to a range of factors, including shifting family dynamics, increasing divorce rates and a growing tendency towards single-person households.

This scratches at the surface of the many evolutions that investors must prepare for if they want to enjoy long-term success in real estate. These changes include:

  1. Our demographics are changing

In my mind our changing demographics will have more influence on the long-term performance of our property markets than the short-term influences of interest rates, bank lending policies or supply and demand.

It’s no secret that our nation is ageing, but the latest Australian Intergenerational Report reveals the significance and depth of this trend, forecasting that by 2055 the number of people aged over 65 will double.

Perhaps a bigger threat is that over the same time the ratio of people in the workforce compared to retirees will almost halve, from 4.5:1 to 2.7:1, as the baby boomers retire. In the 1970s, it was 7.5:1. This means the government will have to keep migration levels high to top up our workforce.

Another critical demographic trend is the Australian Bureau of Statistics forecast that lone-person households will see the most rapid increase of all household types — up by 65% in the next 25 years.

That means there will be about 3.4 million people living on their own, and most of these people will still want to live close to the big cities.

Let’s turn our attention back to that big house on the big block – the one that was as ‘safe as houses’.

In light of these demographic changes, how does that type of property stack up as likely to be in strong demand in the future?

  1. The economy is changing

The mining building boom is well and truly over, and we’re becoming less of a manufacturing country.

In the future our economy will be driven by services, IT and education, which means the economic centres of growth – which will translate to wages growth and the ability to pay more for properties – will be

in our capital cities and, in particular, locations close to the CBD in our three east coast capital cities.

Furthermore, with so many Australians exiting the workforce as baby boomers retire, the government will need to address the issue of skill shortages somehow, so, as I said, it’s likely that migration of skilled workers will only increase in the future.

  1. Our property markets are changing

Owing to the factors outlined above, the Australian property market is expected to experience increasing fragmentation, with the disparity between capital growth in cities and regional areas (and even within cities as the population grows) widening further.

Properties situated closer to the CBD, where robust economic activity, jobs and lifestyle amenities are easily accessible, will increase in value at a disproportionately higher rate than dwellings in the outer suburbs.

At the same time, there will be increased demand for apartments and townhouses as we’ll have more one- and two-person households edging out the stereotypical ‘husband, wife and two kids’ household structure.

What’s more, to cope with forecast population growth – which is tipped to almost double to around 40 million by 2055 – the Master Builders Association of Australia estimates we will need to build nine million new homes over the next 40 years.

This significant population growth will lead to a number of social issues and infrastructure challenges, and the consequential impact on Australia’s property market shouldn’t be underestimated.

Ultimately, there will always be a requirement for detached houses, but it’s becoming evident that there will also be increasing demand for medium-density and high-density apartments as retiring baby boomers trade their backyards for courtyards or balconies.

For property investors, the key to success is adopting a long-term view by seeking out properties that will be in continuous strong demand now, in the next decade, and 40 years from now.

Investors are exploiting returns on debt financing to muscle out home buyers

From The Conversation.

Investors have played an increasingly important role in the Australian housing market in recent years. Our new research shows the actual return rate for housing investors almost doubled a layman’s expectation. Experienced investors are taking advantage of the knowledge gap and might continue to price out other housing buyers.

The sharp increase in investor credit in recent years could be partly attributed to the strong growth of housing prices, particularly in Sydney and Melbourne. However, the reported capital gains might not have fully reflected investors’ actual returns as the impact of debt financing in property investment has been neglected.

Since housing investors typically use large amounts of debt to fund their investment, using the return on equity (after adjusting for debt financing) more accurately reflects their actual return.

In recent years, regulators such as the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority and lenders have implemented measures to moderate the growth of investor lending. Despite these efforts, investors have come back into the housing market since the second half of 2016.

Proportion of housing investment loans

ABS, Housing Finance, Australia: February 2017

Higher returns come with greater risk

Our research sampled properties in 14 suburbs across Sydney, using the Property Investors Alliance database. The results provide some empirical evidence to demonstrate the housing return on equity with debt financing is significantly higher, at an annual return of nearly 14% per year, than the housing return on property without debt financing of about 7% per year.

This could explain the increasing proportion of investment loans in the housing market. The knowledge of investors’ advantage should also be used to inform the ongoing debate about regulating investment housing loans to enhance housing affordability for first home buyers in particular.

It is important to highlight the effect of debt financing on decisions to invest in housing. The results clearly show the enhanced returns are likely to have an acute impact.

At the same time, a higher risk level as a result of the use of debt financing has also been documented. This highlights that housing investors should closely manage their exposure to financial risk from using debt financing by using a prudential risk-management tool.

Returns and risk on housing portfolios: 2009-2015

Author provided

Explaining the increased rate of return

We used an assumption of 20% equity to demonstrate the impact of debt financing, which is in line with the current deposit requirement from major banks. Here’s an example to demonstrate the effect of debt financing.

Say an investor buys a house for A$1 million. The investor provides a 20% deposit ($200,000); therefore $800,000 was borrowed. The investor took an “interest-only” loan with an interest rate of 5% per year – so the interest cost is $40,000 per year. The investor also receives a net rental income of $30,000 in Year 1.

A year later, the investor decides to sell the property for $1.1 million (its value having increased by 10% over the year). The traditional performance analysis of property (without debt financing) would show the return on this housing investment is 13%: ($1,100,000-1,000,000+$30,000)/$1,000,000 = 13%.

Given the housing investor used debt financing, 13% is not the actual return for the investor. The investor’s actual return on equity for the investor is 45%: ($300,000-$200,000)+($30,000-$40,000)/$200,000 = 45%.

Property returns vs equity returns

Author provided

Experienced investors exploit their advantage

Overall, the results suggest the actual return rate for housing investors is significantly higher than the layman might expect from the major housing index providers.

The documented returns may not be applicable, however, to owner occupiers who are also using debt financing, via mortgages, to buy their property. There are two main reasons for this:

  • owner occupiers mainly use their houses for their own residency purposes, so no rental income will be generated to offset the mortgage repayment; and
  • housing investors are able to sell their properties whenever they want to realise gains in value, while owner occupiers do not have that flexibility.

Importantly, experienced housing investors, in the current low interest rate environment, have realised the benefits of debt financing and taken advantage of the knowledge gap to exploit the higher returns available to them.

These findings also highlight the need for an innovative product to assist home buyers to enter the housing market.

Author: Chyi Lin Lee , Associate Professor of Property, Western Sydney University

Time to end the Treasurer’s ‘housing supply’ con

From The New Daily.

When Derryn Hinch told the ABC on Monday that “owning your own home is not an Australian right”, he was unwittingly throwing his weight behind a huge con.

That con, in essence, is to convince voters that a major structural undersupply of dwellings is responsible for the current housing affordability crisis.

The argument is utterly bogus, though Mr Hinch may not yet understand why.

When asked if young Australians had “unrealistic expectations of where they can afford to buy homes close to the city”, he replied:

“You’re right. You’re 100 per cent right … it’s the expectation that, you know, here I am, I’m married, I’m da da da da, and therefore I should have a house.

“Now, in many European countries, and you look at places like New York City, most people – I think I’m right in saying this, or it was some years ago – most people rent, they don’t buy, they can’t afford it.”

Sounds reasonable, until you look at the number of Australian residents per dwelling.

Houses have grown a bit bigger on average, but even in ‘bubble state’ NSW the average number of residents per dwelling has been virtually flat since the millennium (see chart below).

housing crisis sydney

And yet our political leaders, hand-in-glove with property developers and the banks, try to create the illogical impression that average house prices have risen because people want to live close to city centres.

Treasurer Scott Morrison told the Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute in Melbourne on Monday that “… just over half of renters say they rent because they can’t afford to buy their own property”.

“Because of this, they are staying in the rental market for longer – a dynamic that puts upward pressure on rental prices and availability and even more pressure on lower-income households, increasing the need for affordable housing,” Mr Morrison said.

“Increasing numbers of higher income earners privately renting has the obvious effect of lowering availability of affordable rental stock to those on low incomes.”

The Treasurer’s logic is completely flawed.

When a renter becomes a home owner, they vacate one property and occupy another. When a high-income earner sells their home and decides to rent, they vacate one property and occupy another.

The average number of Australian residents per dwelling is not affected by that process.

If immigration, or the birth and death rates, ever get substantially ahead of the national supply of housing stock, that really would be a supply issue – we’ll know more about that when the second round of 2016 census data is released in June.

But until that happens, rising prices in one area should be offset by fewer dollars chasing properties in another area.

So why does that not happen?

Well actually, it does. House prices are falling in Perth, for instance, as mining-related workers head east to look for new jobs. Rental vacancies in that city have risen from around 1 per cent to 5 per cent in the past four years.

But those relative shifts between one capital city and another, or between inner and outer suburbs, have been dwarfed in the post-millennium era by the credit bubble that began to grow when generous discounts to capital gains tax were legislated in 1999.

Twin distortions

The 50 per cent CGT discount, combined with existing negative gearing provisions, meant that property investors could afford to borrow more to bid up house prices. As they did so, owner-occupiers were forced to try to match them.

The entire market has been lifted, like a harbour full of different-sized boats, by the same tide – cheap credit and ridiculously generous tax incentives for investors.

The two most important causes of the housing affordability crisis are, therefore, the ones Mr Morrison has already vowed not to reform.

To make planned affordability measures in this year’s budget seem plausible, Mr Morrison’s housing supply con must be maintained.

Mr Hinch should not join that effort. Owning your own home may not be an Australian right, but shopping for a home in a market that is not systematically distorted to benefit investors, developers and banks certainly is.